Afghanistan attack: Suicide bomber in ambulance kills at least 95

By Prashansa Srivastava

A suicide bomb hidden in an ambulance in Afghanistan killed at least 95 people and wounded about 140 on Saturday when it detonated in an area of the country’s capital Kabul, near foreign embassies, government buildings and police checkpoints.

A long series of attacks

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast, which comes a week after the militant group laid siege on the luxury Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul in which more than 20 people were killed. Both attacks by the Taliban occurred in heavily guarded parts of the city and were at high-profile locations. The Taliban said the attack was aimed at the country’s interior ministry. The latest attack was in an area that houses the European Union’s headquarters in Afghanistan and other diplomatic missions, demonstrating how militant groups can reach even secure areas of the capital. Such attacks are aimed to signify that no place is safe in the country for civilians, despite heavy security.

Kabul has been the site of numerous bombing attacks claimed by the Islamic State group and the Taliban over the last year. On Wednesday, ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack on an office of Save the Children that killed at least three people, prompting the charity to temporarily suspend its programmes. Last year, on December 28  ISIS claimed responsibility for three suicide bomb attacks in Kabul which killed 41 people and wounded 80 others at the Afghan Voice Agency and the Shi’ite-run Tebyan cultural centre. Prior to this, a local television station and a mosque were also attacked killing more than 30 people.

On May 31 a massive truck bomb had killed at least 90 people in Kabul. The target of the attack was Kabul’s heavily fortified diplomatic area in the “Green Zone,” again housing foreign embassies and government offices. The German Embassy in the area was extensively damaged.

In March, insurgents attacked an Afghan military hospital near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, the Supreme Court and the Iraqi embassy, killing 38 people and injuring more than 70 others, namely patients, doctors and nurses. Save the Children, The Red Cross and Operation Mercy are only a few of the numerous aid organizations that have been attacked. Many foreign aid workers have also been kidnapped and murdered. According to United Nations figures, in only the first part of 2017, 209 civilians were killed and 777 injured in suicide and complex attacks.

These attacks targeting foreign aid workers, charities and diplomatic areas highlight the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and its systematic targeting of Western influences.

Spring Offensive

In April of 2017, the Taliban had vowed to increase assaults on coalition and Afghan security forces, declaring the start of their annual spring offensive. The group said they were changing tactics for this year’s operation, naming it “Operation Mansouri” after Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, the late leader who was killed in 2016 in a US drone strike. The operation had forced the defence minister and army chief of staff to resign, showing how Western-backed Afghan forces continue to struggle to contain Taliban insurgency since most NATO troops left in 2014.

The group had said the “main focus” would be foreign forces, who would be targeted with a mix of conventional, guerrilla, insider and suicide attacks, explaining the recent attacks in diplomatic areas. The Taliban is clearly taking an even more aggressive stance to force out international forces and attack the Western-backed government.

Targeting charities

Afghanistan has become one of the world’s most dangerous countries for aid workers, who live under constant threat. Attacks against workers and charities have become much rampant in recent years. Tens of thousands of aid workers used to be employed either permanently or on specific projects, but that number has plummeted since foreign combat forces pulled out in 2014. According to the Afghan government, now just over 900 foreign aid workers remain. With workers concentrated mainly in Kabul and other large cities.

As per the data provided by the Aid Worker Security Database from 1997 to the end of 2014, more than 450 aid workers were killed, assaulted or kidnapped. The Islamic State group sees aid workers as representatives of the West and thus carries out deadly attacks targeting them, with criminal groups often kidnapping workers for ransom. The decline in the number of charities means fewer civilians have access to the vital services provided by them, especially in remote areas where government aid is absent.

Afghan peace process

The idea of reconciliation between the Taliban and the Afghan government is the most obvious solution to achieving peace. However, the Taliban have shown no interest in peace talks and it is unlikely that the militant group will engage in any negotiations in the future since they currently have the upper hand on the battleground. The Taliban controls over one-third of Afghanistan. ISIS is also unstoppable in its attacks. There seems no reason to hope that either the Afghan or the international forces in their current state can prevent the convergence of these groups in Afghanistan.

The inefficiency of the government is also a large roadblock to the peace process. Rampant corruption in the government, internal government disagreement, poverty, unemployment and food insecurity are some of the many problems that make a crack down against terrorism a distant dream. International intervention particularly by the United States in the form of more assistance to Afghan security forces and increase in air strikes against the militant groups, aims to break the deadlock and force the insurgents to the negotiating table. However, the latest attacks signify that the groups continue undefeated and their capacity to carry out devastating and high- profile attacks remains undiminished.

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